Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-American journalist who has spent a big chunk of her career covering the Middle East. Her 1995 book, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women found itself into my hands via a “free books” pile at the local university and sat on my shelf unread for a very long time.
I disappeared into it last week and enjoyed… well, everything about it. It is, I think, difficult to write well about the Middle East as an American—even a liberal one. Even more difficult if one’s culturally and religiously Jewish, even in a lukewarm way. Brooks, I think, managed to do this quite well.
Occasionally, she slips, but… I think that is inevitable.
This, for me, is the most telling part of the book though. She finds herself stationed in the Middle East, and, as a women in Muslim states, barred from opportunities to pursue the stories she wants to pursue… that involve, you know. Important issues. And men. Effectively sidelined, she starts to question what it is about Islam that creates this gender divide, inequity. She deep-dives into the Koran… she gets more and more interested in the often contradictory pronouncements and realities… which all lead her to ask the question,
“Was it possible to reclaim the positive message sin the Koran and Islamic history, and devise some kind of Muslim feminism? Could Muslim fundamentalists live with Western liberals, or would accommodating each other cost both of us our principles?”
“To find the answers, I did something so obvious I couldn’t believe it had taken me a year to get around to it. I stared talking to women.”
Hello, internalized patriarchy.
(That’s my criticism one, btw. Brooks is a Boomer, and man, the internalized patriarchy… but let’s not go there.)
(My second criticism… this is probably a topic that a Muslim feminist should be writing about. But. I am an anthropologist by training—the outside observer does offer a different perspective.)
(I would really love to discuss this book with a Muslim feminist, so if you are one, and you’ve read it… write me.)
Most heartbreaking thing about this book… it’s like 25 years old.
And nothing the fuck has changed.
No, I’m wrong…
Women in Saudi Arabia can drive, as of two years ago.
But otherwise? Time stood still, perhaps moved backwards.
😦 Now, this is what it’s about:
Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women
by Geraldine Brooks
(Random House Canada, 1995)
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER – Pulitzer Prize winning author presents the stories of a wide range of Muslim women in the Middle East. As an Australian American and an experienced foreign correspondent, Brooks’ thoughtful analysis attempts to understand the precarious status of women in the wake of Islamic fundamentalism.
“Frank, enraging, and captivating.” – The New York Times
Nine Parts of Desire is the story of Brooks’ intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives. Defying our stereotypes about the Muslim world, Brooks’ acute analysis of the world’s fastest growing religion deftly illustrates how Islam’s holiest texts have been misused to justify repression of women, and how male pride and power have warped the original message of a once liberating faith.
As a prizewinning foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Geraldine Brooks spent six years covering the Middle East through wars, insurrections, and the volcanic upheaval of resurgent fundamentalism. Yet for her, headline events were only the backdrop to a less obvious but more enduring drama: the daily life of Muslim women.
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